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diSConnected: 'I am because you are.' Ubuntu, deep listening, and connection Upstate

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Do Love Walk Collective
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Website Image Used With Permission
Ubuntu taps into a sense of community, humanity, and shared experience through non-judgmental listening. Upstate, Melanie Gordon's Do Love Walk Collective and the USC School of Medicine-Greenville have brought the practice of ubuntu circles to disconnected students, staff, and faculty.

This story is part of ‘diSConnected,’ an occasional series from South Carolina Public Radio that looks at how South Carolinians are coping with loneliness and connection after two years in the COVID pandemic.

Ubuntu. It’s a simple word of Bantu origin and of profound meaning: “I am because you are.”

The entire concept, an African spiritual concept, looks at how my experiences in life are part of yours; how yours are part of mine. Ubuntu means that we exist together and that we need each other.

For Melanie Gordon, who founded Do Love Walk Collective in Greenville, ubuntu circles – gatherings of eight to twelve, usually wildly disparate strangers – bring humanity together in the most fundamental way, which is to say by having them share their stories and, most importantly, by having them listen to others’ stories.

After her first such circle, Gordon says she felt something more profound than she’d anticipated.

“It transformed me,” she says. “I was able to sit and hear the stories of people that previously, had I heard that story, I might have had a different take on it and a different response to it. But because of the process of ubuntu, I had compassion. And my compassion just grew. And that has happened in every group that I’ve led or been a part of.”

It's not therapy, by the way. It is listening. Without judgment.

Over at the university of South Carolina School of Medicine-Greenville, Joel Burt-Miller and Dr. Ann Blair Kennedy brought this concept (and Melanie Gordon) to the students, faculty, and staff. It was, says Burt-Miller, an effort to allay some of the deep disconnection healthcare students and professionals were carrying through the pandemic.

And in the spirit of ubuntu, I will now stop talking at you and invite you to listen. Click the link above to hear what ubuntu has done for the School of Medicine, and what it might help do for a discombobulated, disconnected world trying to find its feet after two years in a pandemic.

Correction: This story originally referred to ubuntu as an African Christian concept. It is an African spiritual concept.